12 New Year’s Eve Traditions Around the World

Photo by Karolina Grabowska on

Are you trying to push Covid-19 behind you? I am. Especially since I’m awaiting a test to see if I’m positive or not. Hopefully, not. A family member who tested positive is asymptomatic but everyone in the household decided to get a test.

So, while we’re waiting and isolating, I’m reading and writing. With New Year’s rapidly approaching, and the annual group festivities out the window, I found these traditions from around the world that you can do while isolating or semi-isolating.

Traditions are important, to me, because they give a feeling of continuity and security. Through the decades, my traditions have changed from parties to fancy dinners out, to family dinners, movies with my teens, and the past few years to watching the ball drop on television or YouTube.

This year, I’m saying good riddance to 2020 and adopting a couple of rituals from other countries to celebrate and embrace the new year.


From the land of Tango, they celebrate New Year’s Eve with a bowl of beans. People believe that eating beans before the clock strikes midnight means they will have good luck in their careers in the year ahead. (I think this one is a practical joke, myself, if you get my drift).

Costa Rica:

Photo by mentatdgt on

This is a tradition where you get your last steps in for the evening. It’s tradition to grab a suitcase and run around the block in the hopes of traveling in the new year. This is to be done at midnight.

Uh, no. This one is not for me. I’d be traveling to the hospital from slipping on wet concrete or dog poop.


A bit of travel, but only from a chair to the floor. Just before midnight, stop what you’re doing and get on a chair to execute the jump like a Dane would. If you don’t jump, it’s said that you’ll bring bad luck for the following year, so please, I’m begging you — do not forget to jump. If you’re a Dane. If you’re not, it’s optional.


A bit of fire and smoke: People head outside to burn effigies that symbolize the year. By lighting the effigy on fire, you’re letting the bad of the year go and moving onto the next.

Do you think a CoVid piñata would suffice? What would you burn in effigy?


Berliners-German Doughnuts

Yum, doughnuts. Germans enjoy a traditional treat of jam-filled, and sometimes liquor-filled, “Pfannkuchens” in Berlin and “Berliners” everywhere else in Germany. Sometimes, a donut may contain a practical joke, like mustard instead of jam, which is considered by some to be bad luck. They also dine on marzipan pigs for good luck on New Year’s Eve — which they also call Sylvesterabend.


The simplest tradition involves onions. Lots of them. On a string. On their door to encourage growth. They make up for this ritual by baking a vasilopita on New Year’s Day. A coin is hidden in the cake. Whoever finds the coin is said to have a year of good luck. (I hope they use a fork for the cake and don’t bite into a piece).


Photo by Donna Hamlet on

Single women of Ireland place sprigs of mistletoe under their pillows on New Year’s night in the hope that it will bring them better luck and a future husband. (I am on a quest now for mistletoe).


Nengajo Cards

Yes, finally food items. Japanese tradition of eating Tosikoshi Noodles or “year-crossing” soba, which can symbolize having a long and fortunate life along with a clean break from the year.

On New Year’s Eve, there is also a tradition in the Buddhist temples. They ring their bells 108 times to welcome Toshigami, the New Year’s God. A nice gesture is sending thank-you cards called nengajo that wish a Happy New Year and give thanks to friends and relatives.


More food, lots of it, too. In the U.S, we (Americans of Mexican ethnicity or Chicanos or Latinos/Latinx) eat up the last of the Christmas tamales as part of a big dinner.

In some parts of Mexico, the dinner celebration also includes Bacalaó which is salted cod. Also followed by eating twelve grapes for twelve wishes (a tradition in Spain), fireworks, and sparkling wine.

Puerto Rico:

More food. Latinx enjoy food and family and celebrations together. Traditional food is served like arroz con gandules, roasted pig, pasteles, coquito, pitorro, rice pudding or tembleque.

If you’ve never had coquito, you’re missing out. This rummy, creamy, coconut drink recipe can be found on LiYun Alvarado’s website (no relation, but friends).

In Puerto Rico, people throw a bucket of water out of their windows to drive away evil spirits. They also sweep the house and yard clean. Brushing out the old to make room for the new sounds right to me.


Grab a piece of paper, write down your wishes for 2021, and light the paper on fire. (stick to Post-It size). Once it’s stopped burning, sprinkle the wish-filled ashes into a glass of champagne and drink up after the clock strikes midnight. (Uh, no. I’m not ruining a perfectly good glass of champagne).


Photo by Luiz M. Santos on

Now, this is easy and healthy (unless you have diabetes; in that case stick to 8 grapes). Las Doce Uvas de Suerte (the 12 grapes of good luck) are placed in a bowl or cup. When the clock strikes midnight, start downing the grapes, one at a time. You must finish in a minute.

For bonus points: A pair of red underwear can bring you a new year of love, while yellow may bring joy and fortune.

Several Latin American countries do grapes and underwear. I’m making sure my red ones available. I’m thinking of wearing yellow ones on top, too.

So, there you have it. Twelve traditions from around the world.

I’d love to hear about your traditions, especially from countries not listed.

Wishing you and yours a safe, healthy New Year’s Eve whatever you do.

6 thoughts on “12 New Year’s Eve Traditions Around the World”

  1. Here in the north of the UK we have ‘first footing’. The first person to cross the threshold after midnight would set the tone for the year and a tall, dark man was the best, carrying gifts of coal or other things to signify plenty. We used to go from house to house, but the tradition has died out now, I’m not sure if many do it any more.


  2. This was great fun! I hear your humor in it! It’s been a wretched year and yet some good always sneaks in. Today I was crashing into sad, and this blog post lifted my spirits! Un abrazo, Melissa


    1. I like the method of wrapping the coin in a waxed paper which prevents a tooth from getting chipped. Plus, I love rice pudding.


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